Monday 13 January 2014

Taking the Sexy Risk to Provide a Quality Service - Libraries@Cambridge2014

Last week in Cambridge we held the annual Libraries@Cambridge conference. As I was on the organising committee this year (something which needs a blog post all of its own!) I spent quite a lot of the day running around, but I really wanted to blog my thoughts on the keynote speech.

The opening speech was delivered by Frankie Wilson, Head of Assessment at Bodleian Libraries, and entitled Quality in Libraries - It's All About the People. Frankie stressed that putting the customer first is at the heart of providing a quality service for library users. Part of this is making sure that you're constantly assessing the service that you provide, both as a library and as an individual. It's not good enough to send out a survey once a year and write up the results, we need to be looking at the answers we get and really acting on them. This might sound obvious but I've seen it overlooked in more that one situation. Why not take each individual complaint as feedback rather than waiting for a formal survey. If a user tells us that something is wrong then we shouldn't be so quick to assume that it's their fault - maybe it's our process that needs looking at?
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Frankie also stressed that it's important to make the big changes as well as the little ones - the sexy changes as well as the vanilla! The HE environment is constantly changing and although it can be hard to stay ahead of the game it's important to try. You don't want to be the library who waits until everyone else has everything sorted out perfectly only to introduce a technology that's ten years out of date. Take a risk and even if it doesn't pay off I think that your users will respect you for trying.

A lot of this is down to changes in attitude, both at a management and individual level. Managers should empower their employees and make sure that the voices of those on the frontline are heard. It's all very well bringing in experts from outside and talking to those at other libraries but you mustn't ignore those who are serving your users, who know what your users want. These staff members are an untapped resource so make sure you use them. Part of this process is making sure that staff feel able to share their ideas. In order to do this they need to feel valued and be encouraged to innovate. This was something I was pleased to see being encouraged at the conference through an 'ideas wall' where librarians could make suggestions for service improvements.

Individual staff also have to take some responsibility in this change. It's all too easy to be undervalued and underappreciated and has certainly happened to me more than once. We need to change our attitudes as well. Try approaching your management with new ideas and explaining to them how you think things could improve. Don't be afraid of trying, you might be surprised at the answer you get! Frankie talked about setting our default response to "yes, not no because..." and I think this is an important point. You are representing the library to the user, to them you are the library. This means that ultimately you are responsible for improving the quality of the library service. One way to do this is by questioning the norm and changing your attitude to problems.

I think that the keynote stuck with me as this is an issue I've been thinking about a lot recently. We all have tough times in our careers but it's important to still offer the best service that we can to both our employers and our users. This means we need a fifty/fifty relationship; managers need to provide the mechanisms for staff to feel empowered, take on learning opportunities and share their ideas whilst staff need to take some action and not rely on everything coming from the top down.

The most important point I'm going to take away from Frankie's very inspiring keynote is this: taking a sexy risk is just as important as taking a vanilla one and learning to empower and trust your staff (and yourself) is one of the sexiest risks you can take!

(If anyone wants to read about the other sessions, or even a different point of view on the keynote, then the live blog is available here)

photo credit: alexbrn via photopin cc

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